This week's post deserves a bit of framing--and not because The Bronx may strike some as an odd choice. There's a whole lot more to that borough than one might think. Take for but a very few examples, the tony neighborhood of Riverdale, the gorgeous Fordham University campus, the fabulous Bronx Zoo (the largest zoo in North America) or today's focus--Arthur Avenue. The list could go on and on. I have to admit though that highlighting this diversity was not the original prompt for today's post.
It started, rather, with an email that came in a few weeks ago. The folks at Smartling, a translation software company, were in touch to ask if I'd like to be a part of their 'Dream Destination Dinner' initiative with a post about my ideal dinner in my ideal spot in the world. I just couldn't decide on my favorite 'away' so instead decided to focus on a wonderful 'here'--a place with terrific food from 'away' but accessible state-side. Guest blogger Nancy Beaver--now of NC but formerly of NYC--has long raved about Arthur Avenue--and suddenly I had my 'where'...so without further delay, I give you Nancy's wonderfully encyclopedic post on the 'real' Little Italy...
Borgatti's store front (Photo credit: Conde Nast)
The Italian area of Manhattan is but a pale shadow of what it once was. Encroached upon by Chinatown in the south and cool SoHo in the north, it exists now as a few “red gravy” old time restaurants and Ferrara’s Pastry, where cannolis still reign supreme. If you want a glimpse of what a true ethnic Italian neighborhood was like, you need to travel to the Belmont section of The Bronx (Metro North train).
Originally the estate of the Lorillard family, it was settled by Italian immigrants who worked on the Kensico Dam or in tobacco in the beginning of the 20th century. Now there are still individual Italian cheese, pasta and cheese shops, but also Albanian, and Salvadoran places as well. Typical of New York, immigrant groups moving in or out.
The epicenter of food is 187th Street and Arthur Avenue. Start at Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodle shop.
Borgatti's 'Famous' Pasta Machine (Photo credit:Borgatti's)
The same machine has been cleaving sheets of pasta (narrow or wide) since the turn of the 20th century. Look around while you wait for your fresh pasta, they also have great tomato sauce and ravioli. Next, walk to Teitel Brothers on Arthur Avenue, planted on a corner since 1915. You’ll be greeted with open vats of olives, anchovies and beans, guarded by the company cat part of the charm of this crowded deli. Make sure you pick up some salted anchovies, home cured olives and some imported Italian home cured olives and some imported Italian dried pasta, really the only kind worth buying
Move on past the fish store, if they will open clams for you on the sidewalk, have them with lots of lemon. Then move on to Madonia Bakery, this is the place for bread with bits of cured pork, family sized Italian loaves, sfogliatelle and cannolis filled to order. My favorite is quaresimali or jaw breakers. They look like biscotti filled with almonds and are hard as a rock.
Dip in wine/coffee or just gnaw on them.
Cookies at Madonia's Bakery (Photo credit: youropi)
Don’t stay too long because your next stop is the Arthur Avenue Retail Market created by Mayor Laguardia in the 30’s to get push carts off the streets. Still flourishing, you’ll find men rolling cigars when you enter. It’s amazing to watch them work, and they will roll to order. Moving along you’ll find two meat counters one selling offal, liver, kidneys, sweetbreads and other inner bits. The next counter is filled with huge pork chops, flattened scallopinis, aged steaks and rolled, stuffed veal roasts. Recipes and cooking opinions are free. On to Mike’s Deli, food adventurers make sure you accept a taste of aged prosciutto from the deli man who will slice a piece for you. Sample the home cured olives and definitely buy a large chunk of imported, aged Parmesan Reggiano. You can also get a giant sub made with
mortadella and sopressata, amazing. But I like to move past the vegetable stand in the back to the opposite corner where you can get pizza like flatbreads with tomato, spinach, mushroom or cheese toppings. They also have freshly made entrees for the day. Get in line with the doctors and nurses from St. Barnabas and take your lunch to one of the tables covered with checked oil cloth. You’ll be eating in the middle of the market so you’ll be able to pick out aged balsamic from the stall across from you to take home. Just a note, this market is not to be confused with the over-the-top emporium Eataly, Mario Batali's food emporium (a wonder in itself) in theFlatiron section of Manhattan. It’s a local neighborhood supplier of food, gossip and sense of place.
Provolone at Calandra's (Photo credit uncredited Yelp review)
On to Calandra’s (back on Arthur Avenue) where they make their own ricotta, not that awful paste you find in tubs. The provolone hangs from the ceiling, and especially interesting is the provola, stuffed with butter. Make this cheese cake with the fresh ricotta your buy. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/sicilian-ricotta-cheesecake/
Make sure you stop at Calabria Pork Store for dried mild or hot dried sausage.
Sausages at Calabria Pork Store (Photo credit: The Infatuation)
They are all hung from the ceiling to dry and often have tags with special order clients names on them. They are wonderful sliced with wine. This is also the place for cotechino and other Italian deli meats like the pate-like N’duja. Get a chunk of guanciale to fry in dices to flavor tomato sauce. I hope you’ve noticed the many meat stores on the street with freshly killed (still fur covered) goats, rabbits and lamb. They sell regular meats as well, cut to order.
Although this area is all about food, dip into The Belmont Library and Enrico Fermi Cultural Center. One of four cultural centers in the NYC library system, this one highlights the Italian culture of Belmont.
We have only just explored the tip of this mozzarella. There are many wonderful shops and we didn’t even hit restaurants (see annotated list below). Please add this to your trip to New York, especially when you are visiting the Bronx Zoo or Bronx Botanical Gardens near by.
- Old time “red sauce”, checked tablecloth and no menu. Just tell them what you like to eat.
- A really wonderful contemporary take on traditional food. If they have rabbit, order it.
Zero Otto Nove
- A quite new and lovely restaurant with a surprising, enclosed back “garden”.
Umberto’s Clam House
- Eat this here: linguine with white clam sauce.
Edigio’s Pastry Shop
- Arrange your shopping bags around you, take a deep breath and order an espresso and something with pignoli nuts on it.
Cookbooks to inspire you:
The Classic Italian Cookbook
by Marcella Hazan
Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen
by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich